This past week I have been writing every evening, as I get closer and closer to the finish line with my upcoming historical fiction novel, Children of the Ocean God. As the paragrahs and pages steadily accumulate I feel my vision coming to life slowly but surely. Yet I am acutely aware of the fact that just writing words to fill a bunch of pages is not sifficient to make a ‘good’ novel. The book(s) that I aspire to create require(s) much more than that. Ultimately, writing is about rewriting. Like a sculptor carving a masterpiece into stone, it is a painstaking process which requires patience and perserverance to achieve finesse. This aspect of writing is for me an inescapable element of honing your craft as a scribe.
For novice and aspiring writers, I can imagine that it can be challenging to maintain your momentum through this less galmorous phase of the marathon that is the writing process. There is a natural eagerness to get ‘over and done’ with your first draft as soon as possible, since it gives you a rewarding feeling of accomplishment. However, I would argue that it is perhaps better to pace yourself in your writing. Don’t be so eager to get to the mythical finish line. Why you might I ask do I advise this? Simply because of the age old questions that stalk every writer – when is a book finished? How good is good enough?
The quest for perfection can (in theory) continue ad infinitum. Knowing where to draw the line is often an elusive challenge that few have mastered since it is difficult to get the balance between patience and urgency right. One technique that has helped me to get a handle on this tradeoff is elegantly simple. In fact, while writing Children of the Ocean God I have been using it regularly to help me refine each chapter to a point that I am satisfied (not perfection but what I consider good enough). I call it the ‘reading-out-loud’ test. In addition, to the typical method of improving each chapter by rereading it multiple times, I have applied the ‘reading-out-loud-test,’ by reading each chapter aloud and hearing how it sounds. Even better than this is reading out loud to a loved one or friend, who is willing to listen attentively and give honest feedback.
What I find astoundingly effective about this deceptively simple test is that it never fails to yield insights into parts of the narrative that need to be improved, due to repetiveness (e.g., using the same adjective or adverb more than once in a paragraph or page) or bad grammar (e.g., using an incorrect verb tense) or poor sentence structure (e.g., long, overly complex run-on sentences). You will catch all of these mistakes when you conduct the reading-out-loud test since you are not only reading but also hearing what you have written. Equally interesting is when you have a listener present. Listening requires different mental faculties than reading. If the person listening to your story struggles to follow the narrative or finds it difficult to stay engaged in the story, it is often a sign of deficits in the storyline or in character development. Simple questions you can ask a listener after reading a chapter aloud are: What do you recall from the chapter that you just heard? Or what do you remember about the characters in the story?
If you are skeptical about this test, I encourage you to give it a try once and see what happens. You never know, perhaps it might help bring you a step closer to the finish line that every writer chases. I hope this week’s blogpost will be helpful to you and that you have enjoyed it.
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